We’ve had both centipedes and millipedes in our backyard at various times, and not really thought much of it. So finding out some folks see them as pests is a surprise. So are they?
Centipedes and millipedes can’t be classed as garden pests, because having them in your backyard does have some benefits. Centipedes kill other garden pests such as aphids and slugs, while millipedes break down organic matter around the yard. Both have a role to play in managing soil health too.
Let’s dive down into this subject in more detail and discover the difference between centipedes and millipedes – and also look at the relative merits of both.
What’s The Difference Between Centipedes & Millipedes?
How are centipedes and millipedes different? Much as we’d love to reply that one has a hundred legs and the other a thousand, sadly this isn’t true. However, it does come down to leg count, and the millipede does have more than the centipede.
Both have segmented bodies, and the millipede’s have a slightly rounder shape. Centipedes have one set of legs per segment, while the millipede has two (so two and four legs per segment).
Although they’re cousins, they have quite different habits. Millipedes are vegetarian (more about this later on) and centipedes eat insects. They kill their prey with their venomous bite: so if you’re bitten by one of these critters, you know you’ve just met a centipede.
Are Centipedes Considered To Be Backyard Pests?
Centipedes are a funny one to share a yard with, because they’re both beneficial and a pest. They’re a good thing when they’re chowing down on aphids, small snails, and other undesirable creatures, but less helpful when they’re eating friendly little worms.
They are also pesky when they decide to supplement their insect diet with fresh fruit and veg from your yard. Centipedes are partial to cucumber, lettuce, tomato, asparagus and radish. So, whether you decide that centipedes are pests or not depends on whether they’re mostly devouring the insects that devour your plants, or simply devouring your plants themselves.
What Are The Benefits of Centipedes?
The centipede will get rid of various unwelcome insects from your yard. As well as aphids and small snails, they will also kill larger prey like slugs (and nobody wants slugs in their yard). They will also eat larvae, slowing down the insect population.
Centipedes and millipedes also have an important role to play when it comes to soil health. Like earthworms, they break down organic matter, helping to make your soil humus-rich.
Why Do I Have Centipedes in My Yard?
What brings the centipedes to your yard? Food, plain and simple. If you have plants that attract those insects that centipedes like to eat, they’ll come hunting. They also like moist, damp, and dark places, so can seek out shelter in piles of mulch or compost.
Will they venture into your home? They might, especially if they spy a spider indoors. But generally, they prefer darker spaces.
What Happens if You Get Bitten By a Centipede?
Centipede venom is designed to take out small bugs, not big humans. So, if you get bitten by a centipede, you may feel a small sting, but it’s no worse than a bee sting and won’t usually cause any damage.
Some people may get a reaction to centipede bites, and if you do, an antihistamine may help. The main complication is infection from the bite rather than the venom, as a skin puncture like a bite is actually a very small wound. Clean it and cover it, especially if you’re still gardening, to prevent infection from the soil.
And of course – was it actually a centipede that bit you? If you saw it, fine. If you’re not sure what bit you, please get it checked out, as not all venoms are as mild as the centipede’s.
How Do I Get Rid of Centipedes in My Garden?
It’s not easy to remove centipedes from your yard, as there are so many good habitats for them in the garden. Compost piles, moist soil, mulch, bark… All those things that are good for your plants are also good for centipedes.
You can get organic bug killer at the garden center; however, this is a pretty short-term approach as you’re not destroying their breeding grounds. In the end, the best solution is habitat management. Don’t keep your compost bin next to your asparagus bed, and regularly turn the soil and mulch to make them less appealing homes.
Can Centipedes Kill Plants?
Although they’re mostly meat-eaters, centipedes will eat plants (they seem partial to salad vegetables). When they eat the roots (as they do with asparagus) this could kill the plant.
However, because they do eat garden pests like slugs, snails and aphids, you may decide that their benefits outweigh their less-welcome traits. Maybe they deserve the odd leaf in exchange for this?
Are Millipedes a Garden Pest?
The slow-moving millipede mostly feeds on rotting plant matter, and helps to break down the soil, much like an earthworm. Those are its good points.
It becomes a pest when it decides to eat fresher vegetables, and they can cause significant damage to seedlings. They come out at night to eat; and as well as chowing on decaying matter, they may also have a midnight feast on young plants and ground-growing fruit, like strawberries.
Are Millipedes Good For Anything?
Breaking down organic matter is an important garden job, and the millipede is extremely good at this. As such, as a “recycler”, and those tend to be welcome garden residents. Also, they don’t bite, won’t hurt kids or pets, and are unlikely to move into your home.
If they can be encouraged to live in the compost pile and never go near the seedlings in the greenhouse, they’d be very welcome little bugs…
Do Millipedes Bite?
Unlike their carnivorous centipede cousin, millipedes have no need to bite. They don’t have to paralyse their prey, as they are solely vegetarian. This is good news if you have kids and pets in your yard.
Centipedes will bite if they feel threatened (and then run away very quickly), which is how gardeners will end up being bitten every now and then. A scared millipede will curl up and release a smelly substance to keep away predators. You may never see this, as they normally come out at night.
How Do I Kill Millipedes in My Garden? (What Do They Hate?)
Firstly, do you want to kill millipedes? If they’re not actually eating any of your plants, leave them be and they’ll help break down your compost and soil. However, if they’ve crossed the line from helper to pest, there are ways to get rid of them.
One way is to catch them in a trap, then dispose of them. Simply put a piece of overripe fruit in an empty soda bottle, and leave it in a place where you know the millipedes congregate. They should be able to get in but not scramble out.
Organic diatomaceous earth powder kills various insects by getting inside their exoskeletons and basically drying them out. Scatter this around your delicate seedlings to kill any invading millipedes.
They also hate the smell of tea tree and peppermint (centipedes do too), so burning these oils is a great way to keep them out of your home. Plant peppermint in pots close to your seedlings to repel millipedes.
You could always introduce another predator, like chickens, but this is quite a drastic solution!
Will Millipedes Eat My Plants?
The millipede’s main diet consists of rotting vegetation, and they are happiest living in compost heap. However, they will still snack on fresh young seedlings, killing your plants before they’ve had the chance to grow.
They’ll also eat ground-growing crops, and occasionally you see them nibbling at strawberries. They’ve also been known to tunnel into tubers.
On balance, both centipedes and millipedes are not really backyard pests because having them in the garden also comes with some benefits.
The bottom line is this – if you’re inundated with loads of them (which is unlikely), and they become a major nuisance (which again is not likely), then you could take some of the more drastic measures outlined above to get rid of them.
But for most of us, there’s no need to give our multi-legged friends their marching orders quite yet. 🙂
Homeowner and property investor Larry Jones founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >